« Back to News

City-university collaboration leads to problem solving, panel says

September 30, 2016

Can lead to problem solving, panel says

SOUTH BEND — There was a time when cities and nearby universities rarely interacted, and when they did it focused mostly on issues related to student behavior or off-campus housing.

Those days are gone, as many universities now serve as research and development hubs for technological innovations designed to solve real-world problems in the community.

“Collaboration is the new competition,” said Martin O’Malley, a former governor of Maryland and former mayor of Baltimore, during an appearance Thursday at the University of Notre Dame. O’Malley, an advocate of town-gown partnerships, is known for relying on analytics to pinpoint public problems and using that data to act quickly, focusing on issues from crime to repairing potholes.

He was part of a panel discussion about the importance of universities and cities working together to solve problems. The other panelists were South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Robert Bernhard, Notre Dame’s vice president for research; and Notre Dame undergraduate Alicia Czarnecki, a former intern in South Bend’s department of engineering.

“Technological change seems to happen slowly when you’re in the moment. It’s not until you look over your shoulder that you realize how fast it goes,” said O’Malley, who is now chairman of the advisory board for MetroLab Network. MetroLab Network is a national effort of more than 35 regional city-university partnerships for innovation, including a partnership between South Bend and Notre Dame.

Universities can perform the research and development, and cities can act as the testing places to determine the results, he said.

South Bend’s reliance on technology such as ShotSpotter, the city’s gunfire detection system, allows city officials to respond quickly and also to engage neighbors who might otherwise give up on calling police about criminal activity, Buttigieg said.

With a population of about 100,000, South Bend has many of the same issues facing larger cities, from gangs to public transportation, Buttigieg said. “But we’re small enough to have a nimble response,” he said.

O’Malley urged that such efforts focus on collaboration that can help both city and university. He said not to let side issues such as student behavior or whether colleges should pay taxes hijack the effort.

Bernhard said most relationships he observed between universities and cities early in his career were adversarial, but that has changed. “Now people realize universities are about development and quality of life issues,” he said.

City-campus partnerships can be a valuable learning tool for college students, as well. “It’s important to get students outside of the bubble of the university and into the community,” Czarnecki said.

South Bend Tribune